The city of Snoqualmie is looking at a possible partnership between Fall City Fire and the city’s own fire department.
The Snoqualmie City Council approved staff to explore partnership options in a tight 4-3 vote at the May 29 meeting.
Fall City Fire, which is King County Fire Protection District 27, and the Snoqualmie Fire Department already work together under an Interlocal Agreement (ILA) that allows them to share staffing and resources.
Because the two agencies already work together under the ILA, discussions about exploring further partnership options had taken place in 2017. On March 31, 2018, the two fire chiefs of Snoqualmie and Fall City presented a scoping report to their respective councils that outlined various possible partnership methods. Four specific methods were detailed in the report, one of which caused concern from Snoqualmie Council members that led to the division on the vote. In the report, each option’s benefits and challenges, including cost, are examined.
Option one is a functional consolidation of the training divisions, option two is merging both fire administrations into a single entity that will lead both independent agencies, option three is a merged agency under an ILA allowing them to function as a single organization, and option four is a voter-approved merged agency that would create a regional fire protection district (RFA).
Overall, the council was supportive of Fire Chief Mark Correira and city staff exploring the possibilities of improved efficiencies through a partnership, but their opinions diverged on the inclusion of option four, which would form a seperate agency to operate and manage the combined organization. both parties would have representation in the combined agency, but the city would lose it’s control over the Fire Department.
Council member Bryan Holloway introduced an amendment to the resolution to remove option four from the document. He said he refused to let city services be run by an external entity, and is concerned about losing control over decision making that could negatively impact the service provided and the control the city has over that service. Council member James Mayhew agreed, explaining that the fire services would limit the city’s ability to serve their citizens and cut off potential funding sources.
In an RFA, the city’s tax base for the fire services would go to the new organization, and that tax base would be all they get. Mayhew said that under the city, the fire department is not limited by that tax base funding and the city can fund the fire department as they deem necessary.
“I don’t like tall buildings in Snoqualmie, but the fact is that we are getting some five story buildings. The fact is if we get one or two more of those we are going to need a ladder truck, we are going to need different kinds of apparatus. Where is the funding going to come for that?” Mayhew said. “If we release our fire department to a separate fire district and that fire district doesn’t want to buy that apparatus, that’s going to limit choices we can make as a city.”
In response, Council member Matt Laase said that the removal of the fourth option was unnecessary due to the majority of the council seemingly opposed to it regardless if it is on the resolution or not. Laase, along with Council members Bob Jeans, and Katherine Ross, thought that removing option four would limit the possible discussions the city and fire department staff could have with District 27.
“No one is saying we are going down a road where we are going to choose option four,” Laase said. “We’re saying we are in support of exploring options one through three, but option four is available to discuss at a future date. We get to decide if we want to discuss it or not, we don’t have to. I don’t think there is any change that needs to happen.”
Council member Peggy Shepard said that she didn’t think the resolution was necessary at all to allow staff to begin exploring these options and discussing them with Fall City Fire. She said that she was in favor of the idea, but just thought that the resolution itself was unnecessary.
Holloway and Mayhew said they were in support of the first three options, but with the inclusion of the fourth they could not vote for it.
The amendment to remove option four failed in a 4-3 vote with Jeans, Ross, Laase and Shepard voting against. With option four still on the table, the resolution as drafted passed in a 4-3 vote with Holloway, Mayhew, and Shepard voting against.
Mayor Matt Larson and Chief Correira acknowledged that the council did support continued exploration and that option four, which was already deemed highly unlikely, was not desired by the council.